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Murtha's Retreat and the Winning Alternative By: Frank J Gaffney Jr.
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, November 22, 2005


Call it the Week that Was. In the course of four days, Washington was wracked by congressional initiatives that threaten immeasurable harm to the war effort, precipitating bitter personal attacks across the aisle and across Capitol Hill.  The effect has been greatly to intensify divisions there and elsewhere in the country.  In response, senior Bush administration officials have issued increasingly hollow-sounding appeals to “stay the course.” 

The bloodletting began on Tuesday as seventy-nine members of the Senate ill-advisedly embraced a resolution signaling that America was ready to wash its hands of the effort to consolidate freedom in Iraq.  Only 13 Republicans refused to go along with this indication of a deteriorating resolve (six Democrats voted “No” as well, but for different reasons; the resolution did not go far enough for their tastes towards cutting and running).  The sense of creeping defeatism was palpable.

Matters became considerably worse on Thursday.  Rep. John Murtha, one of the few House Democrats who – as a decorated veteran and life-long adherent to the philosophy of peace through strength – has credibility on national security matters, declared that withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq should begin immediately.  Suddenly, the defeatist sentiment had gone from creeping to galloping.

Mr. Murtha’s recommendation is especially regrettable since, even if it continues to be rejected (as it was in the House on Friday night by a vote of 403-3), the mere fact that proposals to abandon Iraq at this juncture are being actively considered will have four very negative effects:

First, this new evidence that America is an unreliable ally and one that fails to comprehend the true nature of this conflict can only demoralize our friends in Iraq and beyond.  Courageous people around the world who have responded to our calls to fight Islamofascist and other forms of terror will surely respond by hedging their bets.  The War for the Free World may not be lost as a result.  But it will surely be harder to win.

Second, our enemies are emboldened by what they see as proof of our lack of resolve and staying power.  In particular, the Islamofascists’ ambition to destroy us and impose a global Caliphate under a Taliban-style religious code known as Shari’a have already been powerfully encouraged by our previous losses of will in Vietnam, Beirut and Somalia.  It is predictable that their efforts will now be redoubled.          

Third, a redoubling of our enemies’ efforts means that more Americans and other freedom-loving people will die, in Iraq and here.  Confirming that we place a greater premium on individual lives than on securing our national interests and doing whatever it takes to prevail only serves to reward the murderers for their bloodletting, ensuring there will be much more of it.

Finally, even those who appear most directly to have prompted Congressman Murtha’s emotional appeal for withdrawal from Iraq – the wounded and disfigured veterans he frequently visits in military hospitals and their comrades still in the fight – will suffer from his initiative.  After all, they must conclude that their sacrifice has been in vain, or shortly will be, as everything they have fought for is squandered by a precipitous U.S. disengagement from the fray.

Regrettably, these realities were largely obscured by the vitriolic debate that consumed Washington last week.  Democrats and Republicans exchanged sharply worded charges of selective treatment of inconvenient facts (the former claiming the President and his subordinates “lied” us into war in Iraq by distorting intelligence; the latter by noting the Democrats’ refusal to recall their Bush-like pre-war statements about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s regime.)  The public seemingly is left with an artificial choice between cutting-and-running and muddling through.

Fortunately, last week was memorable for one other reason:  The Congress was the scene of a third approach – a bipartisan initiative that might be called the “winning alternative”:  Members of Congress led by conservative Republican Jack Kingston of Georgia, Democrat Eliot Engel of New York and a GOP moderate, New Jersey’s Jim Saxton, joined forces on Wednesday with a similarly diverse group of Senators led by Democrat Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, conservative Republican Sam Brownback of Kansas and a member of the centrist “Gang of 14,” Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, to make a real contribution to America’s energy security.

Their idea is compelling:  Reduce dramatically the use of oil in America’s transportation sector by utilizing existing technologies massively and rapidly to ramp up the availability of alternative fuels (ethanol, methanol and electricity) and the vehicles that can use them.  By so doing, we can make our economy and security less reliant on a commodity whose purchase requires us to transfer tens of billions of dollars every year to regimes that are unstable at best, and violently hostile at worst. (For more on this initiative, see Step 3 of War Footing: Ten Steps America Must Take to Prevail in the War for the Free World, Naval Institute Press, 2005).

America’s only hope for prevailing in what is, in fact, the War for the Free World is to mobilize and bring to bear the full might of this country. To do so, we must urgently focus our political warfare and other instruments (including energy strategy) on defeating those who wish to destroy this country, rather than each other.

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Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. is the founder, president, and CEO of The Center for Security Policy. During the Reagan administration, Gaffney was the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Forces and Arms Control Policy, and a Professional Staff Member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, chaired by Senator John Tower (R-Texas). He is a columnist for The Washington Times, Jewish World Review, and Townhall.com and has also contributed to The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The New Republic, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, The Los Angeles Times, and Newsday.


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